On Life Lessons

The lessons moving our learning journey these past two weeks have been decades in the making. I have pondered leaving them out of this public blog, but I would be remiss in doing so. They inform every interaction I have ever had with my children and ultimately shape the very core of my family. I am who I am—the mother becoming, the woman evolving, the wife in bloom—because of these lessons. They are of heartache and forgiveness, loss and reconciliation. To ignore them is to potentially repeat them, abdicating power over the lives of my children (and the future of my psyche.)

These lessons are not meant to be forgotten. Examined? Of course. Understood? Certainly. Released? Undoubtedly. But not forgotten.

Some twenty plus years ago this spring, I saw most of my family of origin for the last time since. I was a junior in college. Two of my brothers were already estranged from the family. We were a lively bunch, riddled with the kind of history that sings like an opera and reads like Shakespeare. Before my life was even ripening, the players suffered and struggled, alone in the minefield of silence that plagued their era. There were no parenting books or support groups or playdates or blogs or forums then. There was scarcely the opportunity for introspection. There was a Great Depression and then a series of wars. There was mediocre healthcare, at best—none for many. Discipline was a physical affair. Relaxation was sought in a bottle. Racism was overt.

I was the fifth child born to a couple who were already too enmeshed in the destructive sins of their generation to enjoy the psychic renaissance of the sixties and seventies.

When my mother left my father, she did so with all the courage she could muster, a beaten down car, and her five children. As a mother myself now, with three lovely children and an incredibly supportive husband, I don’t know how she did it. She is my hero. Even under the positive circumstances that surround me, the stress of parenting can be overwhelming. Day to day minutia is a comfort. The ordinariness of it sustains me. My mother shattered the ordinary to protect her children from the demons of my father’s past. It must have nearly killed her.

Her second marriage brought a new set of historical demons and gave her a sixth child.

Now, at 42, I have no judgement regarding those demons. How could I? As difficult as it was to be parented according to such deep affliction, it must have been all the more agonizing to be in their possession. At 20, though, they were devastatingly painful to try and endure any longer. They broke our family apart, leaving some of us in mere sprinklings of relationships, other combinations of us completely estranged, and still others more deeply bound by a shared experience.

Throughout the past few years, the emotional barrier that has divided us has been bending, slowly dissolving beneath a greater power—time, healing, death, and re-birth.

This summer, for the first time since that awful spring twenty-two years ago, I will see my mother face to face. When we talk on the phone, we laugh. She is jovial. It is a sound I vaguely remember, one that punctuated the more profoundly wounding moments of our shared history. The more I  hear her laugh now, the further I am taken back to the frequent whispers of humor she used to diffuse tension and offer us sparks of childhood when she could.

It is a lovely sound, that laugh—one she deserves to bellow after so many years of trying to protect, seeking shelter, ravenous for healing and reconciliation.

I often wonder how I managed to find my own laughter. For much of the past two decades, I have assumed my humor a result of some inner-strength I possessed. Now, as I watch my own children emulating traits of mine that I did not even know were visible to them, I recognize this humor as a gift from my mother. Though she could not offer it tangibly as much as she does now,  I caught it, enough of it to get me through those years of separation.

It’s an irony, isn’t it? That the very tool I used to heal from my separation from my family was the laughter that my mother gave me?

Time offers the effervescent gift of clarity.  I am thankful for it.

originally published May 2011